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03.18.18 The Surprising Path to Life Mark 14:3-11 Sermon Summary

by on March 19, 2018

Note: this sermon was delivered in first person as Simon the Leper.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover he was already famous. We had heard about his baptism by John and his testing in the wilderness. We knew that he had returned powerful with the Spirit and went about teaching and healing.

So when Jesus came to Jerusalem I really wanted him over for dinner: An unfamous guy hosting a famous one. I didn’t know if he’d bring his disciples. Some of them were said to have scruples about his behavior. Like Peter, for example; he didn’t always appreciate Jesus’ interactions with non-Jews.

So how much more to receive an invitation from “Simon the Leper”? Let’s be honest, lepers made a lot of people uncomfortable. They didn’t understand our condition. We couldn’t hide it. No one could heal it. Mostly people feared us. They excommunicated us from synagogue and from society. Some tried to “explain” our condition as sin. So they feared us physically AND spiritually—like we were a human contagion.

So I didn’t know if Jesus would come—or his disciples—to my table. Would Jesus or his disciples come to the table of anyone who made them uncomfortable? To the table of a Leper. To the table of an undocumented immigrant. A violent religious extremist. A mentally ill homeless person. Someone with an ambiguous gender. Like the table of an average poor person? Or, it turns out, a really rich person? Or at least a generous person?

She came in rather unnoticed. She could have been a servant sent in to wash our feet or serve the meal. No one paid her any attention. Why would they? She didn’t bother me. To the mind of leper, what’s another marginalized person?

She was carrying this alabaster jar used to store oil or perfume. And she begins to pour it on Jesus’ head like an anointing. It smelled beautiful, and we all knew it was really expensive stuff—it was nard. It was, in fact, worth a year’s wages for common folk.

So here was Jesus—anointed! Right in my house! Kings were anointed. Priests also; and prophets too. This woman with her alabaster jar was declaring Jesus “Messiah,” Hebrew for “Anointed,” “Christ” in the Greek. And it made sense. He was teaching us, healing us, liberating us from corrupt religion and oppressive governance. He was very messianic, indeed. It was exciting—even though in the house of a Leper; even though it came through a woman.

So she anoints Jesus but keeps on going. The aroma was overwhelming—even sickening. She emptied the whole jar. My house smelled like someone was preparing a funeral. People became uncomfortable—well, even more uncomfortable. And then it all boiled over and they became downright angry.

“What a waste!” they said. “This is going too far.” “It’s too extravagant.” “No one needs THAT much!” “Where did she get that much money?” “Imagine how many mouths that nard could have fed!”

Jesus just sat back. He took a deep breath and enjoyed it, like you would a fine wine or a mountain breeze. He looked at her kindly, with appreciation, with love and intimacy, like it was just the two of them sharing a moment. He seemed both grateful and impressed—amazed, really.

Someone later said they’d seen that look before. Actually, it was with another woman. This one with the alabaster jar and earlier an old widow. She was in line to make her offering. When she got to the front there was this “clink, clink”—two tiny coins. Then also people said, “What’s the use?” “What a waste.” But not Jesus. He said, “She has given more than all the rest. “Out of her poverty she has given more.”

Now this woman at my house obviously gave out of her abundance. Still she was judged. I thought maybe we judge others’ gifts so we don’t have to think about giving ourselves. Maybe if we showed some grace we would be more open to giving. Maybe we could be as generous to Jesus as these women were if we stopped judging them. You’d have thought a Leper would get it sooner than I did.

Well this woman got it. She had listened to Jesus. THREE times he told his disciples, “The kingdom of God is at hand, but first I’m going to die in Jerusalem.” Peter argued with Jesus. James and John wanted high positions in the kingdom. But this woman thought, “If he’s going to die, then his body will need anointing before burial.”

So she anointed Jesus, declaring him Messiah, revealing him as Christ. But he wasn’t the Messiah we expected. He wasn’t just a prophet, priest, or king. He wasn’t the Lion of Judah but rather a Passover Lamb. His was going to be a sacrificial death. Jesus had been saying this. She was the only one who believed: Not Peter; not James and John. They betrayed his teaching. Just like Judas did.

In a couple of days Jesus would be wearing a crown of thorns. We thought it was going to be a royal crown, and that was going to be “good news” for us! Our Messiah was going to wear a crown of victory! But first he had to wear the crown of sacrifice.

Here was the surprising path to life following Jesus. It passes through death. That’s good news of a different kind. This woman understood this good news long before the rest of us. Before his head bore the crown of thorns or of victory it was anointed by this woman.

And Jesus said that wherever this good news is proclaimed in all the world, what she did will be told in remembrance of her. She had infamous faith, and so can anyone. So can you. You can be the woman in the story. That’s why we didn’t record her name—so you can write your name into the story. You can believe Jesus. You can give yourself to him. You can have infamous faith. Imagine how many mouths could be fed if we all did! Amen.

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